92 Percent of Greenland's Residents Believe Climate Change Is Happening
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
While attention buzzed around Greenland, some key voices were absent: those of the Greenlanders themselves. This autonomous territory of Denmark is home to 56,000 people, most of whom are Greenlandic Inuit. What are their thoughts about climate change?
A cohort of Danish and Greenlandic researchers recently completed a nationally representative survey, aiming to shed light on what residents think about climate change, climate impacts and policy solutions. The outcome, Greenlandic Perspectives on Climate Change, was published in August.
The researchers gathered responses from July 2018 to January 2019, before the summer of 2019 dealt Greenland an early breakup of sea ice, wildfires, a widespread heat wave and record-breaking glacial melt. Even before these events, climate change had already made a stark impression on the locals. "Climate change is our vulnerability, and it is bad for us," said a resident of Qeqertalik during an in-person survey.
Comparing Greenlanders' Views With Those of Americans
Several of the questions in the study used the same format as polling conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. As a result, the attitudes of Greenlanders and Americans can be directly compared. However, public opinion is ever-movable, and factors like extreme weather and high-profile political events can sway people's attitudes in one direction or another. The comparisons below use U.S. data from April 2019, and shifts in Americans' views over time can be explored with an interactive dataset.
But regardless of the exact timing, these two cultures are worlds apart, as is evident in many of the responses.
Broad Recognition That Climate Change Is Happening
The vast majority of people living in Greenland say the climate is changing. The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, and the results are not subtle.
"We don't have solid sea ice in the winter anymore and the ice is melting quickly," said one resident in Avannaata, in the northwest of Greenland. "Some of the glaciers are becoming smaller than before, and glaciers now release icebergs all year round."
Most Greenlanders Have Experienced the Effects of Climate Change
The Greenlandic way of life is close to nature. Most Greenlanders (76%) eat wild foods they hunt, fish or gather. Nearly one-quarter went out on the sea ice in the past year. Many live within sight of a glacier. The Greenlandic Inuit have long relied on nature for their livelihoods. One resident explained, "It is really bad because my parents are fishermen. If the weather is not stable, their economy is unstable."
Climate Change Is an Important Issue in Greenland
For wealthy nations in temperate climates, such as the U.S., climate change has only recently become an important issue among voters, despite decades of concern from scientists. But in Greenland, climate conditions are not an abstraction: Ice, snow and weather are central to their lives. Climate change is important to 82% of Greenlanders, compared with 64% of Americans.
Greenlanders spoke about local impacts: "The fish factory closed down in 2012 because the sea ice from the fjord side stopped forming." And they speak also of the global reach of the problem: "The ice sheet is melting and will be bad for both us and the world."
Frequent Discussions Among Greenlanders About Climate Change
As one might expect given the responses above, Greenlanders frequently talk about climate change. "We talk about the big changes in the weather almost every day," said one respondent. About one-quarter of Americans say they never discuss climate change; in Greenland, nearly half (45%) discuss it weekly or monthly.
A Slim Majority of Greenlanders Point to Human Activities
Given Greenlanders' reactions to the other questions, it's somewhat surprising that only a narrow majority thinks that human activities are warming the climate. The data from this question are similar to data on public opinion in the U.S., with the caveat that people's attitudes in both locations can change over time.
But the similar results likely stem from different reasons. In the U.S., acceptance of humans as a driving factor in climate change has divided along political lines, and partisan rhetoric to ignore or deny climate change remains a persistent distraction.
Greenland does not share the fractious politics of the U.S., so it's unlikely that partisanship or fossil fuel lobbying are at the root of public opinion. But Greenland residents are disconnected from the driving causes of climate change. Citizens of industrialized nations are accustomed to seeing smoke stacks, vast industrial sites, and, in many areas, a gauze of pollution in the air. Greenland has none of that. Instead, natural forces dominate their daily lives. The scale of pollution in industrialized countries is as foreign to the Inuit culture as polar bears are to most Americans.
Local Risks, Impacts and Perceptions
When Greenlanders talk about climate change, their observations and worries differ markedly from those of Americans. Subsistence hunting and fishing are still part of the Greenlandic way of life, and the Inuit are personally exposed to the hazards and hardships of a rapidly changing environment.
A resident in Qeqertalik, West Greenland, voiced a local concern, "The food-chain is becoming unpredictable, and animals in the Arctic are getting closer to towns, which is uncomfortable."
Violent Weather and Unpredictable Sea Ice as Top Problems
When it comes to specific climate impacts, people's observations reflect their particular circumstances. In southern areas of Greenland, unpredictable weather and increasing storminess rank as the top concerns. "More frequent, very powerful storms are very worrisome," said a West Sermersooq local.
In the northern and eastern regions of the country, the loss and thinning of sea ice are the most vexing impacts of climate change. A large majority (79%) of Greenland residents say they feel traveling on sea ice has become more dangerous in recent years: "Due to climate change, we get less sea ice in the winter, making it harder to make a living from [it]."
Who Will Be Most Harmed by Climate Change? Sled Dogs
Greenland residents say those most likely to suffer harm from climate change are not people, not children, and not future generations. It's sled dogs. Two-thirds of Greenlanders say they think their dogs will be harmed by climate change, as opposed to 50% who feel Greenlanders themselves will be harmed.
One respondent said in an interview, "I used to dogsled a lot when I grew up. My children didn't experience this because they were too late for sea ice."
Not All Think the Changes Will Be Bad
In the Arctic, the allure of a longer or warmer summer has some appeal. Even so, four times as many people think climate change is a bad thing than think it's beneficial. Nearly half the population feels the changes are neither bad nor good.
"It is nice that the climate is warming but bad globally," said one resident. Others mentioned the possibility of saving money on heating oil and electricity.
Melting ice may have benefits for navigation and agriculture. "It might make the Northwest passage more sailable, which could be good for Greenlandic society's economy and infrastructure," said a resident of West Sermersooq, Greenland's most populous region. A respondent in Avannaata, situated well north of the Arctic Circle, said, "I'm not sure it is going to harm us. In the future, I would like to try farming after we move south. It should benefit farming."
One West Greenlander reflected on a consequence of the melting ice that would reap local benefits along with global concerns, "We may get greater access to gas, oil and natural resources."
Most Greenlanders Back Limits on Greenhouse Emissions
Even though Greenland is a negligible contributor to the world's burgeoning outpouring of greenhouse gases, residents say they favor measures to limit their own pollution. Investments in renewable energy are the most attractive approach, with 75% approval and only 2% opposition. Most Greenlanders favor regulation of industrial greenhouse gas emissions and feel that Greenland should be part of the Paris climate agreement. Denmark is a member of the Paris agreement, but was granted a "territorial exclusion" for Greenland. Greenland did not enter the Paris agreement because resource extraction is one of its few options for economic development. This outlook is reflected in the opinion data; banning oil drilling does not garner majority support, even though citizens support emissions reductions in other ways. About 40% of residents say they prefer protecting the environment even if it costs jobs, and 26% say they favor economic growth over environmental protection.
"Because of the climate change, it can be challenging for the fishers but we always adapt," said a Qeqqata local. "We have to contribute to spreading awareness and preventing pollution."
Greenland's climate is harsh even in the best of circumstances, and climate impacts to Inuit lives present a first-order challenge. Nonetheless, many have a broad view of the problem. "It has been very cold in Greenland the last months, while it is so hot in the other countries. The people in other countries are dying due to the fires. If global warming happens everything will be rotten."
For many people around the world, the bottom line remains the same, whether uttered by someone in Albuquerque or in Avannaata: "If people stop polluting earth, maybe climate change won't be as drastic."
Editor's note: Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, served in an advisory role on the Greenlandic study.
Minor, K., Agneman, G., Davidsen, N., Kleemann, N., Markussen, U., Olsen, A., Lassen, D., Rosing, MT. (2019). Greenlandic Perspectives on Climate Change 2018-2019 Results from a National Survey. University of Greenland and University of Copenhagen. Kraks Fond Institute for Urban Research.
Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Bergquist, P., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., & Gustafson, A. (2019). Climate change in the American mind: April 2019. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Yale Climate Connections.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.